The decision of the Dr Wale Babalakin-led Governing Council of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) to remove the Vice Chancellor, Prof Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, will continue to rock the campus and the Nigerian University System (NUS) for sometimes to come.
Since the announcement of the sack on Wednesday, August 12, 2020, the 58-year-old institution has been in turmoil. Opposition against the decision assumed major dimension on Thursday, August 13 with a protest by the staff unions.
In less than 24 hours, the embattled VC insisted that he remains in charge of the affairs of the institution. Despite his resistance, the governing council went ahead to appoint Prof Theophilus Soyombo of the Sociology Department as acting VC.
Sacking of VC
Prof Ogundipe was removed for alleged misconduct during an emergency meeting of the council in Abuja. Registrar and Secretary to council, Dr Oladejo Azeez, said the VC was removed in accordance with statutory powers vested in the council by law:
‘’The decision was based on council’s investigation of serious acts of wrongdoing, gross misconduct, financial recklessness and abuse of office against Ogundipe. Therefore, stakeholders of UNILAG and the general public are advised to disregard the mischievous disinformation about the sitting VC of UNILAG, contained in that notice. Professor Ogundipe still remains UNILAG’S VC.’’
Voting pattern at council meeting
Some governing members who participated in the August 12 meeting queried the voting pattern and the result declared by Babalakin, which led to the removal of Prof Ogundipe.
The UNILAG Governing Council is made up of 15 members including the representative of the Federal Ministry of Education. While some members physically attended the meeting others did via virtual.
Two of internal council members, Prof Afolabi Lesi and Prof B. Oboh openly disagreed with the result announced by Babalakin to sack the VC. Only 11 members of council voted. Ogundipe and Deputy Vice Chancellor (Development and Services), Prof Folasade Ogunsola, were sent out of the meeting, while the chairman did not vote.
Prof Lesi provided an update on the voting pattern: ‘’Fifteen members attended the council meeting physically and virtually and two were asked to leave, the VC and the DVC. Thirteen members had the opportunity to vote, even though Babalakin did not vote (as stated by him), leaving 12 members to do the voting.
“Six members have provided information that they voted against the removal of the vice chancellor. Professors Bola Oboh, Afolabi Lesi and Olukemi Odukoya, all representatives of Senate, UNILAG. Others included Dr John Momoh (President, National Alumni, UNILAG), Prof Ben Oghojafor (Deputy Vice Chancellor, Management Services) and Prince Adetokunbo Adebanjo, representative of the Ministry of Education who declared his vote openly.”
He said Prof Eddy Omolehinwa, representative of Senate, abstained. He revealed that the first vote message that Babalakin read as having received was one suspension:
‘’From the recount so far, the suspension vote is from one of the following, Alhaji Hussain Ali (former commissioner), Mr Oluwarotimi Sodimu (representative of Congregation), Dr Saminu Dagari (Senior Lecturer of Chemistry, Federal University, Gashua), Dr Bayo Adaralegbe (Babalakin’s Chamber) and Revd Yomi Kasali (Senior Pastor, Foundation of Truth Assembly).
‘’Therefore, what is remaining is four persons, who voted for the removal of the Vice Chancellor. From the analysis of the voting pattern above, six persons voted that Ogundipe should not be removed while four persons voted for his removal.’’
Prof Oboh said Babalakin asked the VC and Prof. Ogunsola to excuse themselves despite protestation from them on the need to defend themselves before their accusers: “Pro-Chancellor did not accede to their protest and they left:
‘’The pro-chancellor then asked Dr Dagari to summarise his findings, which he did. Despite the procedural flaw in not asking another panel to look at the allegations and VC’s response, he went ahead and called for a vote on the removal of the VC.
‘’Babalakin decided that members should vote and send to him by WhatApp for him to collate the votes. While waiting, the pro-chancellor left the meeting and returned and called out votes and comments sent to him. Prior to this, Adebanjo arrived and asked what was going on and what was the agenda item being discussed.
‘’After getting explanation from the Registrar, Adebanjo raised a point of order that the removal of the VC was not an agenda item. The pro-chancellor noted that he came late and could not alter the proceedings. Nevertheless, Adebanjo voted against removing the VC.
‘’At the end, Babalakin gave a conflicting votes cast and eventually announced that the votes are six for removal four against removal, one vote to suspend. It is clear that there were abstentions and unclear whether the Adebanjo vote was counted as the number of votes (11) did not add up to members present which was 15 who could vote.
‘’Thereafter, the Senate representatives expressed their serious objections to the procedure and the decision taken. They noted the potential for generating disquiet and disharmony in the system. They pointed out that the decision was wrong and excused themselves from further consideration of anyone as acting VC as stated by the pro-chancellor.’’
Senate, staff unions react
On Thursday, August 13, the embattled VC received overwhelming support from the Senate and the four staff unions. They rejected the decision and insisted that Ogundipe remains the VC of the institution and declared ‘’no vacancy for VC position in UNILAG.’’
The Senate noted that the action of the council constitutes a violation of Section 3 (8), (9), (10) and (11) of the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) (amendment) Act, 2003 on the removal of VC of any Federal university in Nigeria, stating that the Senate was not invited to participate in any joint committee of council and Senate as required by law.
The Senate said the appointment of acting VC breached Section 3 (8) (13) of the Act, as due process was not followed. It said the Senate was neither informed nor invited to forward its recommendations to council and that its powers as well as functions were appropriated by the council in breach of the law.
The resolution, which was signed by the chairman, Senate emergency meeting, Prof Chioma Agomo and five others, Prof Dele Olowokudejo, Prof Oluwole Atoyebi, Prof Folasade Akinsola, Prof Lucian Chukwu and Prof Ayodele Atsenuwa, rejected the removal of Ogundipe as VC.
The Senate affirmed its confidence in Ogundipe and passed a vote of no confidence on the Babalakin-led governing council. It called on President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately dissolve the council and reject the appointment of Soyombo as acting VC.
The four staff unions on Thursday, August 13 staged a protest against the council decision to remove Ogundipe and described the action as illegal. The chairmen of the unions condemned the removal.
Those who signed the resolution included Dr Dele Ashiru for Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU); Mr Olusola Sowunmi for Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities (SSANU); Mr Ajibade Kehinde for Non Academic Staff Union (NASU); Mr Sulyman Lawal for National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT); Mr Tunde Aderibigbe, NASU chairman, College of Medicine (CMUL), Idi-Araba, Lagos and Mr Ayo Alli, SSANU Secretary, CMUL.
They faulted the sacking of Ogundipe based on non-notification to the VC of the allegations against him and failure of the council to come up with a panel to look into the allegations in line with the university act. The unions said no formal report from any investigative committee and no consideration of report of an investigative committee because none was set up as provided for in the university law.
The workers affirmed absolute confidence in the leadership of Ogundipe and vowed not to recognise anybody appointed as acting VC. The unions called on the Minister of Education and the Executive Secretary of National Universities Commission (NUC) to stop the charade and lawlessness carried out by the council given its potential for causing disharmony and industrial instability in UNILAG.
VC position not vacant
Some Senate members told The Education Report that there is no vacancy on the 11th floor of the Senate Building. They wondered why the council appointed an acting VC when the tenure of the sitting VC has not ended.
Former SSANU chairman, Mr Adefoladu, was emphatic: “As far as workers of UNILAG are concerned; there is no vacancy on the 11th floor. We have a sitting VC and he is Prof. Ogundipe. Whoever is interested in occupying the position should wait until his tenure is over. We don’t recognise any acting VC because the position at 11th floor is not vacant.”
ASUU UNILAG chairman, Dr Ashiru said: “The position of our union is clear, there is no vacancy. Prof Ogundipe’s tenure is still on and those eyeing the 11th floor should exercise patience until the end of Ogundipe’s tenure. The union is not aware of a staff or anybody appointed as acting VC.”
Babalakin hits back
Babalakin insisted that the VC’s removal followed due process in line with the university act. He also denied that a Senate meeting of UNILAG held. He noted under the law, only the VC can summon a meeting of the Senate, arguing that as at the time Ogundipe conveyed one, he was no longer the VC:
“The confusion is that most people do not know how the governing council operates. There was full compliance of the law in the removal of Prof Ogundipe. The issue has been lingering on for a long time. Series of attempts were made to reconcile but the VC was not forthcoming.”
Babalakin said voting could be done in secret or open ballot. He disclosed that the votes were counted with each council member’s comments: “Everyone voted, they didn’t just vote but they made comments and I read out all the comments.
“Go and read the law, what the law said is that when a VC is removed and you have a complaint, you will write an appeal to the visitor. He cannot on his own, declare that he has not been removed as Ogundipe has done. He cannot on his own confront his employers. In law, he has resigned because if you challenge your employer and you are still in his employment, you have actually left.
“One of the things that was found in the committee report is that N49million was spent in renovating the VC’s official residence without following due process and authorisation from the council. Another N41million was used to renovate the bursar’s official residence. The official residence of the bursar can be built with N41million from start to finish but that was the amount used for renovation.
“Investigation also found out that he exceeded his authority in financial management. Even the budget of UNILAG is not a true and fair account of the finances of the university.”
The pro-chancellor disclosed that amount allocated to hired cleaners was more than what was provided for students’ welfare: “The university account is not the true reflection of the institution. The account has been in shambles while the IGR of UNILAG was mismanaged.”